Noir Kringle - The Black Santa's Grotto (Review)

What is it

Simply put, Noir Kringle is a black Santa’s Grotto experience. The grotto took place on December 21st-22nd and will hopefully be back next year! Admission included a letter making workshop, magic reindeer food making, storytelling and a gift. One adult is free with a child ticket (£10 for under 1s, £15 plus 2s and overs), additional adults are £7 (not including booking fees). You can find out more here

On the Day

The location was pretty east to find – nestled on a market street a few feet away from free weekend parking (result!). Travelling by public transport is just as easy – a tube/train to Elephant and Castle and a quick bus ride (there are about five buses that’ll take you there). When you walk along East street it’s pretty easy to spot as you can see inside the venue from the street.

We started off at the cute little café next door where we signed consent waivers for filming, and my LO got a sticker with his name on and after a short wait our journey begun. Inside the elf workshop we were introduced to Mrs. Kringle, a loveable, motherly character who keeps everyone and everything in check. She sat the children down on a large red blanket scattered with festive cushions for a wonderful short story about Mr Kringle. I thought this was a fantastic way to start the experience because let’s be honest many children are used to white Santa Clauses and it gave us a feel of who Mr Kringle really was and what he gets up to. I loved the cultured spin on it, a few Caribbean traditions were dropped in and my eyes lit up with the mention of Sorrel, which disappears as fast as it’s knocked up in our house! If it’s an original story I really think they should look into turning it into an illustrated kids’ book because I’d definitely buy it. The projection of the fireplace on the wall was a nice touch as it gave us warm and cosy vibes.

We then moved on to writing letters for Mr Kringle and were given various stamps, coloured felts and pens to do so – anybody that knows my son knows he loves a good stamp set and he wanted to spend as much time as possible on this so I had to coerce him into posting his letter so we could move on to the next activity – reindeer food making. We had an experience with a different grotto that had the same activity where ‘reindeer food’ was just slapped into bowls and it was down to us to scoop it into bags without much… imagination, but what was nice about this time around is that Mrs Kringle had cute little colourful vials of ‘fairy dust’ that the children could sprinkle into their food sachets too (trust my son to pick one of the ones that was right at the bottom so poor Mrs Kringle had to dive in for it) and warned us away from adding the extra strong fairy dust because its just way to magical.

Then, the moment we’d been waiting for – meeting Mr Kringle. Amari went shy as expected (whenever he’s around any kind of characters from elves, Santa’s fairies, and even more recently the PJ Masks he tends to clam up and get overwhelmed). We managed to coax him into a photo (Amari, not Mr Kringle who was more than happy for a photo) and aside from taking our reindeer food home my LO was also given a gift from Mr Kringle too – a ‘The Stinky Sprouts in a Rather Smelly Christmas Tale’ book which luckily enough was the perfect gift because there’s a long running joke about the men in our family loving brussels at Christmas.

Our Verdict

I didn’t know what to expect when booking Noir Kringle – as with any new family-based events there’s always the chance of it being disappointing but to be honest I’m struggling to find anything to nit-pick at. The only thing I can really think of is that the story could have had some imagery for the younger ones but to be honest I have no complaints. There was consistent attention to detail throughout – from the décor which was really well thought out to the little finishing prop touches (like ‘NK’ embossed on the mailbox, the hub filled with letters that were all stamped and addressed, books celebrating diversity dotted around the workshop – there wasn’t a neglected, unfestive area in sight) everything felt very well constructed. It felt like we were actually in an elf workshop and not in a rented-out space that had a few makeshift decorations that was supposed to look like an elf workshop. Everywhere you turned you were likely to see something that celebrated representation and diversity.

Every part of the experience was guided and entwined nicely with the next activity and I liked that Mrs Kringle made a conscious effort to make sure my LO was included, even if he was a bit shy she’d still make the effort to try and talk to him and didn’t just leave him by himself to get on with things. She didn’t break character once and I loved her energy – she was really welcoming and made everything feel homely. I think that because it was so relaxing, I could have happily stayed longer if there was more time to do the activities.

Overall, the experience was well worth the money, especially as with every child ticket one adult is admitted for free. The experience didn’t feel cheap and more importantly it’s about more than that. POC deserve to be seen and represented and Noir Kringle are doing that. Growing up I never saw myself represented in the books that I read, the TV I watched or the experiences I had. Knowing that there’s now a generation of children that are able to grow up and be able to visit a grotto that they can relate to is a big deal. I’m glad to have been able to visit such a well-executed grotto and we’ll definitely be visiting again next year!

Don’t worry if you missed out on Noir Kringle this year as I was also lucky enough to have a chat with its creator, Charlotte Lewis, and it looks like it may just be coming back:

“It was important for me to bring Noir Kringle to reality because I felt there was a lack of representation in regard to the magical character Santa Clause, and wanted my daughter to have a representation of herself that reflected her.

It definitely has met my expectations if anything it has exceeded them. Pulling the event together was a big challenge, when having a part time job and a 2-year-old finding the time to set up a new business was testing but somehow found the energy, creativity and drive as I knew this was an idea that needed within our community. I drew inspiration from everywhere I could, I started with my love for Christmas the nostalgia from my childhood. From my favourite films, food and smells to vintage decor and toys. As well as wanting to bring back that magic from the past I also wanted to bring a new concept although often seen in America had yet to be seen in UK.

The feedback has been absolutely amazing I’ve been overwhelmed by all the support, comments and feedback this has only given me more motivation to make next year just as magical. We’re definitely thinking of expanding next year. We are hoping to have more dates and more concepts but all will soon be revealed…”

I wanted to end this feature with a before and after transformation so you can see just how much effort has been put into the grotto – it hasn’t gone unnoticed! 

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